Friday, May 15, 2015

The Art of Discarding - a Journey towards Contentment (Part 2)

One of my goals for the next six or so months is to take steps in making our house a home and building a small but efficient wardrobe that I really love. Both of these are part of my mission to live well and generously with and on less - to find contentment where I am. As I've begun this process, I've also learned that pruning away the things I don't need or that I've hidden behind, is a step towards becoming who I truly am. Throwing away clutter also unclutters your mind. Giving to others reveals your truest self. This is the art of discarding. 

There's a tiny book that has taken the organizational world by storm, viz, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. In it Marie explains her philosophy of tidying: Get rid of everything that doesn't "spark joy". It should be an event, a festival, something done only once and completed forever. Perfection is the aim and anything short of it is an excuse. Now, if you're like me, you're hooked by this concept, not because it really sounds like something you want to do but because you have identified a clearly crazy person and want a good laugh. As much as I knew that I had too many possessions and that I needed to be less dependent on things, the idea of keeping only things that brought joy seemed trite at best.

But here's the thing: I read it. And I loved it. The girl I thought must be crazy morphed into a sort of organizational sensei offering advice over my shoulder as I started going through my things. Her premise is that we spend too much time thinking about what we don't want, rather than thinking about what we love, or, as she says, what "sparks joy". She challenges you to organize by category rather than by location - and she sternly warns that doing it any other way will only lead to tidying repeatedly, constantly trying to reduce clutter. This happens because we store similar items in various locations.The first category she recommends going through (she claims it's the easiest) is clothing - and if you have a lot of clothing, then she recommends breaking that down even further into things like "shirts", "pants", "dresses" so that you don't get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that you have. Next, she makes you take everything out, put it on the floor or the bed and touch each piece to see whether it sparks joy or not, which decides whether or not you keep it. Now, if you're like I am, the first thing you think is "Oh, I don't have very many clothes - I can definitely put all of them out and go through them all at once! This will be easy!"


Myth 1 - I don't have very many clothes. I am clothes-poor.

Now, while I may not have a lot of clothes and shoes compared to some girls, my drawers were still stuffed and I had long since given up trying to find enough hangers to hang my skirts, dresses and shirts. I quickly realized that I did, in fact, have a lot of clothing - especially when I pulled stuff out of the dirty clothes, and the extra bedroom, and out from under my bed, and out of the living room floor...and well, you get the picture: clothes, like other items, tend to end up in multiple locations. I realized that my complaints about having nothing to wear were founded in poor clothing choices rather than in lack of clothing. I was clothes-rich - not clothes-poor - even after reducing my clothing by about 70%.
This is just my pile of skirts and pants 

Myth 2 - Getting rid of clothes will be easy.

Marie recommends going through your clothes as quickly as possible and keeping things based only on your initial gut reaction. Anything you spend more than a second or two on probably isn't something that you love, but rather is something that you have an attachment to for other reasons - guilt, sense of duty, fear of loss. If those other reasons aren't Joy, Marie says you don't need it in your home. As hokey as it sounds, as I went through category after category of my clothes, piece by piece, I found she was right: there is an emotional element to my possessions - and not all of my emotional responses were fun ones. Getting rid of things that have an emotional association is difficult, even if the emotion is an unpleasant one.

Myth 3 - Once I bag the clothes up and put them in the spare room, I will feel relieved.
Bags of stuff in the spare room

Marie insists that you get rid of your bags of clothes and possessions as quickly as possible - she doesn't even advocate for donating them: they're a burden, they're junk, throw them away. Now, I thought I knew better than to listen to this crazy little Japanese lady, so I decided that I would bag all my clothes up and put them in the spare room, out of my hair, until I could have a yardsale in some semi-distant future. At least I could make some money off of all these items that had sentimental (emotional) value! The clothes then sat in said spare room for 2 months - making me feel miserable, confused, unsure, torn, disgusted, sad - did I mention miserable? - every time I walked into the space. Or even past the space. We took up keeping the door closed, but it was like a dreadful secret. Even though I felt peace whenever I looked in my drawers in our bedroom - the thought of a) actually parting with the stuff in the other room and b) the stuff still being in the other room, was not at all peaceful. While I had externally reduced my stuff to a more reasonable level, keeping only things that I absolutely needed or brought me joy, I was internally clinging to my possessions and the identity they gave me. I couldn't bear the thought of losing them, so I used a vague "yardsale" date to assuage my fears and conscience. The psychology behind Marie's method is simple: to change your habits you must change your way of thinking, and the easiest (albeit quite painful) method is to rip the habit-bandaid off at once and start from scratch. Our habit - to her thinking - is to keep things to keep from dealing with our deeper emotional issues: our wishes, fears, pasts. Once you touch something and decide to let it go, you should let it go. Keeping it in the spare bedroom isn't letting it go. It's continuing to hide it from yourself. You will not feel better by doing this.

So how is my experience with Marie Kondo's book part of my journey towards contentment and simplicity?

Using the KonMari method opened my eyes to how possessions ruled my life in a very concrete way. As I learned to release them, to say goodbye to them, I learned things about myself. And not just that I really hate the color black on me - but things like: I hold onto items of clothing that I don't even like anymore for fear of losing a memory; or out of duty to particular relationships; or because I don't think I am worth something new or more my style.

My much happier closet - still a work in progress!
As I began exploring what it meant to dress with less, one of the first things I needed to learn was the Art of Discarding. You decide what you love and want to keep, you release what you don't, and you bless yourself and others by expressing who you really are instead of protecting yourself behind a wall of pretty dresses that you don't truly feel like You in. I reduced my wardrobe by about 70% - and only once or twice have I missed something and been sad I had bagged it up. Most of it, I can't even remember. The things I kept bring me joy.

But seeing my closet full of only the things that bring me joy started me on another path towards simplicity: the capsule wardrobe. In my next post I'll begin showing you where I'm starting - and how adventure can be as close as seeing how many combinations you can make from one dress.


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